When Apple and Nike collaborated on the Nike + iPod Sport Kit back in 2006, no one could have guessed that the $29 wireless athletic accessory or its software would remain all but untouched five years later. Other Nike+ accessories have been hinted at, and a heart rate monitor was even released for certain iPod nanos in 2010, but the Sport Kit and its $19 shoe-mounted Sensor have been the dominant Apple athletic accessories for years. During that time, alternative workout-ready products have appeared, though invariably at considerably higher prices, and generally with less impressive software interfaces.
Scosche officially joined the wireless athletic accessory club this summer with myTrek ($130), an armband-mounted pulse monitor with a battery-powered Bluetooth chip inside. Equipped with the most impressively developed software alternative to Nike + iPod we’ve seen on iOS devices, myTrek is extremely easy to use and aesthetically neutral, too. But like other Nike+ rivals that have been released in recent years, it’s weighed down by a considerably higher price and limited functionality: it tracks your pulse, using it and statistical assumptions about the time, distance, and type of workout you’re doing to estimate the calories you’ve burned.
From a hardware perspective, myTrek is pretty simple. The armband consists of a centrally mounted black plastic shell, combined with a mostly black neoprene and Velcro armband that’s large enough to fit average-sized male and female forearms. Scosche includes a neoprene extender for larger arms, as well as a long USB charging cable that lets you keep the five-hour battery in the Bluetooth wireless accessory charged.
On the surface of the shell are three gray-colored remote control buttons with yellow and red lights that flash during initial pairing and subsequent powering-on. The remote’s buttons are used to stop and start music that plays through the app during your workout, as well as to adjust the volume up or down. We found the soft armband to be entirely comfortable to wear for even extended monitoring sessions, and easy to adjust, too. Twin green lights and a sensor on the undercage of the armband measure your pulse, and are invisible while the armband is in use.
Judged strictly on what the accessory is supposed to do, myTrek handles pulse monitoring with aplomb. We tested the LED/optical-based pulse monitor against the pneumatic monitor built into the Withings Smart Blood Pressure Monitor and found myTrek’s pulse results to be consistent with Withings’, but updated in realtime as opposed to intermittently sampled only when an arm cuff inflated. While the Smart Blood Pressure Monitor also offers systolic and diastolic rates, it’s obviously designed for a different purpose than myTrek, and not wearable as an alternative.
Scosche’s myTrek application looks very sharp, and makes the most of what could otherwise be a very boring monitoring process. Surrounded by nicely shaded gray boxes and battery level/GPS indicators, the pulse monitor is in a white and blue window on the “home” tab, with a bouncing monitoring line mimicking your heart rate.
Separate tabs let you choose different types of workouts—free, free distance, time, time + distance, distance, and calorie—as well as tracking your workout stats on a nice-looking calendar, and customizing settings for your body. myTrek looks as if it could have been developed by Apple, and certainly feels consistent with the rest of the iOS interface.
Nice little touches make the monitoring experience even better. Monitoring turns on with a sonar-like chime, and workouts end with a different and equally pleasant sound. Music from your iPhone’s or iPod’s library can be played from within the app, and the app’s voice prompts—“go faster,” “you have reached 25% of your workout, keep going,” and so on—are extremely clear. That said, they don’t duck in and out of the music, so the two audio sources compete with one another; Apple handled this better in the Nike + iPod application even back in the iPod nano days.
As noted above, myTrek has only two major disadvantages: the heart-stopping price tag and a limited scope of functionality. Whereas the Nike + iPod Sport Kit sells for $29—or only $19 if you have an iOS device and only need the Sensor—myTrek’s $130 asking price seems grossly disproportionate to the monitoring that it provides. While the aforementioned Nike+ iPod nano-compatible heart rate monitor released by Polar and Nike last year is less convenient to wear as it’s chest-mounted rather than on an armband, it sold for $60 less.
Moreover, what you’re really getting here is just a pulse rate monitor with calculator and timer features, dependent largely on whatever else the iOS device you’re using has inside. Scosche notes that the myTrek app’s distance, speed, and pace tracking relies upon the iPhone 3GS’s or iPhone 4’s GPS hardware, and aren’t enabled on the GPS-less third- and fourth-generation iPod touches; distance workouts do still show up as an option using the iPod touch’s less precise location services.